International Blueberry Conference: Changes required in the industry
The 11th International Blueberry Conference, held in Poland on March 9-10, gathered over 500 participants from over 14 European countries. A common consensus among participants was that changes are needed in the blueberry industry, from plantations to production, trade, and marketing.
Increasing blueberry consumption
The quality of the fruit was one of the most relevant topics, especially considering the upwards trend in blueberry consumption.
“America is the largest global consumer, with an average yearly consumption of 1.2 kg per person,” said Thomas Drahorad, representing the magazine Italian Berry.
Blueberry consumption is also steadily increasing in Europe. According to Rabobank data, in 2014 the average European ate about 150g of blueberries, which increased to 600g in 2022.
Forecasts indicate that in 2026 the average consumption of blueberries in Europe will exceed 1 kg/person, which would mean a 100% increase compared to 2021.
“We can already see that in some markets the level of market penetration is very high and it is difficult to count on its continuous growth. Therefore, at this point, it becomes crucial to convince customers who are already consumers of blueberries to buy and eat more of them. This can be achieved through good quality and repeatability,” said Drahorad.
Mechanization in fruit selection
Increased mechanization can be achieved through the appropriate selection of varieties, but also through the proper preparation of the product for sale.
Undoubtedly, growing depreciation awaits growers, also in sorting and preparing fruit for sale. Laura Vignoli from Unitec talked about it. Thanks to the solutions offered by Unitec, the selection of fruit becomes more accurate, and the packaging is more homogeneous, which means that growers or packers receive fewer complaints.
It becomes crucial to further improve the sorting process by being able to classify the by-product into different classes (soft berries, fruit with stems, color defects, etc.), and sell each of them at the best possible price.
The use of intelligent and automatic technological solutions at all stages of blueberry sorting, from fruit classification to packaging, including the final sorting of boxes and automatic palletization, is now possible thanks to mechanization and robotization.
Mechanization in harvest
During harvesting, the need for mechanization can also be seen in the field.
This topic was raised during the debate by Leon Schrijnwerkers, a nurseryman and grower from the Netherlands.
Invited experts addressed the question, "Who will pick blueberries in Europe?"
“In the Netherlands and Germany, we already have very high blueberry production costs. In the Netherlands, the total cost of blueberry production last year was EUR 3.75/kg, with the cost of hand-harvesting alone at EUR 1.8/kg. However, when blueberries are harvested with a machine, the cost of harvesting is reduced to EUR 0.65/kg, and amounts to a total of EUR 2.60/kg,” said Schrijnwerkers.
“It must be taken into account that production costs will continue to increase in the coming years and it will be even more difficult to recruit employees. That is why it is necessary to prepare plantations for mechanical harvesting now. It must be taken into account that such employees will be recruited by employment agencies in the future, as an individual grower will not be able to meet all formal requirements,” said Krzysztof Zabowka, operational director of Daifressh Berry.
Wishing for a stable production
With most of the plantations pruned and prepared for harvesting, the upcoming European season is about to begin. The culminating point will be the official start of the blueberry harvest.
The first blueberries will be tasted by the growers' children, which will take place on July 3 during the inauguration of the International Blueberry Organization summit.
Poland is one of the largest blueberry fruit producers in Europe. Plantings of this species currently cover 12,000 ha. Fruit production in 2022 amounted to 64 thousand tons. Polish blueberry season starts at the end of June and lasts until the beginning of October.